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Chapter 4 - The Political Turns Personal: Neo-Neorealism and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone (1961)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2023

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Summary

In Italy, during the decade that followed Vittorio De Sica’s introduction of a new type of male-centered film, neorealism morphed into a form of neo-neorealism that shifted the focus from social concerns to the inner life of individuals. Picking up from De Sica’s demonstration of how the neorealist mode of filmmaking could be utilized to reveal men’s “secret dramas,” Pier Paolo Pasolini and other filmmakers from the next generation, like Vittorio De Seta, proceeded to show how this mode could be exploited for purposes of self-experience and self-projection, reflecting a deepening awareness of personal subjectivity.

Pasolini’s first feature film, Accattone (1961), provides a stunning example of how readily an ostensible concern with sociopolitical issues could be coopted to serve as a vehicle for the presentation of a “subterranean film” that was personal rather than political, without in any way diminishing the impact of the explicit political concern. The means by which he achieved this lay in a skillful manipulation of strategies that Pasolini saw as constituting the “cinema of poetry”—strategies that can be identified in virtually all the subsequent male melodramas that critics have judged to have affective power and aesthetic merit.

Critics have usually looked at Accattone through a political lens, focusing on how the film exposes the plight of the underprivileged Roman subproletariat from a left-wing perspective. Viewed in this way, the eponymous Accattone (literally low life or beggar) is seen as a victim of bourgeois callousness and indifference, his status as a martyr being underlined by the use of the emotive iconography of Christianity. Pasolini himself encouraged this interpretation by emphasizing in his comments on the film the heroic status of the characters. Referring to Accattone, he said:

My vision of the world is always fundamentally a blend of the epic and the religious; therefore, with respect to these characters who suffer in misery, characters who exist outside of historical awareness, and, indeed, bourgeois awareness, these epic-religious elements play a very important role. Misery is always, on account of its personal and epic characteristics, and the elements that operate in the psychology of an underprivileged, poor, subproletarian person, are always to some extent pure, owing to the fact they lack awareness, and hence are essential.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

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